What is social anxiety and how to deal with it

We all know the feeling of being nervous in a social situation. Maybe your heart starts to race before a meeting or your palms start sweating before you have to perform a speech. However, for people with social anxiety or social phobia, these feelings can extend from one-off events to normal, everyday social situations like eating food in public or running into an old friend. Social anxiety can lead to you fearing being judged, criticized, laughed at or humiliated in front of others, or accidentally offending someone.

Social anxiety can affect people during many different situations such as:

  • Talking to strangers
  • Engaging in group conversations
  • Going on dates
  • Making eye contact
  • Public speaking
  • Using public bathrooms
  • Going to parties
  • Eating in front of other people
  • Going to school or work
  • Starting conversations
  • Hanging out with friends

What does social anxiety feel like?

Social anxiety in these sort of situations can feel different depending on the person but some of the symptoms are:

  • feeling anxious in social situations (you might notice physical signs like faster heart-rate, sweating, upset stomach, dizziness, shortness of breath, shaky hands, blushing)
  • feeling self-conscious around other people
  • worrying that people will notice your anxiety
  • feeling pressure to do things ‘right’ in social situations
  • replaying how you acted in a social situation over and over again in your mind afterward
  • not doing things you want to do because of feeling anxious

What causes social anxiety?

There’s not one single root cause of social anxiety. Psychological and environmental factors are known to influence social anxiety and it can be made worse by harmful thinking patterns and by avoiding situations that make you feel anxious.

Avoiding situations isn’t helpful and can actually be harmful because you never get a chance to see whether or not your fears are in fact true (e.g. ‘If I go to the party, I’ll be awkward and no one will speak to me’). Without actually testing your fears in the real world, you’ll be limited to the evidence in the made-up stories you tell yourself and they’ll always be negative.

Harmful thinking patterns only make you feel more anxious. Obsessing about how you act in social situations rather than actually being in the moment, overanalysing every tiny detail of a previous social situation (e.g. ‘Why did I say that, I probably annoyed them’), overestimating the likelihood that something bad will happen (e.g. ‘Everyone will be able to see that I’m anxious’) and automatically imagining the worst case scenario (e.g. ‘I was so embarrassing, everyone must hate me’) are all examples of how harmful thinking patterns can be. These thinking patterns are effectively a script you’re writing for yourself and can often actually cause you to act in the way you fear the most.

How can you deal with social anxiety?

If you have severe social anxiety then I always recommend speaking to a medical professional first but if you have or are just looking for ways to deal with your social anxiety I suggest hypnosis, cognitive behavior therapy or social skills training.

Hypnosis is a state of hyper-focused relaxed attention where you’re more open to suggestions. Hypnosis has been shown to help you change the unconscious frameworks of automatic thinking patterns that drive how you understand and react to situations and feelings involved with social anxiety.

Cognitive behavior therapy aims to help people change the way they think, feel and behave in social situations. CBT is designed to help you identify irrational beliefs and thought patterns and replace them with more realistic views. This can be through education, therapy, tasks and more.

Sometimes part of your social anxiety can be caused because either you lack or think you lack the social skills to interact effectively in social settings. Social skills training methods include modeling the appropriate behavior, role-playing, visualizing and then practicing in real-life situations.

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